Scriptures such as Bhagavad Gita say that the biggest cause of our suffering in this world is our material desires. Material desire means desire to enjoy in this material world without Krishna. And as long as we have such independent desires we will suffer.
Why is it so? Let us discuss.
But first, it is important to understand difference between desires and needs. To fulfil desires, one has to work extremely hard but for needs one may not have to work too hard.
Our needs are not desires and are fulfilled by Krishna
For our needs Krishna has already provided everything. We just have to use it judiciously. If we look around, we will find that food, clothing and shelter are easily available. Water is available almost everywhere. These basic needs are provided by nature to us who works as per the wishes of Krishna.
However, these days, we have to struggle very hard to satisfy even our basic needs. Earlier food was not sold in the market. But today not just food but even water is sold in the market. To drink pure water, one has to pay money.
I heard that once few western devotees came to Vrindavan. They wanted to buy milk. They went to the vrajvasis and asked them, “We want milk. Please tell how much it costs per litre?” Vrajvasis started looking each other’s face.
One of them said to the devotees, “We do not sell milk in Vrindavan. You can take as much as you want and for that you do not have to pay anything.” This may have happened around 50-60 years ago. Selling milk, selling water was almost unheard-of. Because whatever is needed for our living has been provided by Krishna.
Today because of wanton greed people have exploited nature and have commercialised everything, so there are scarcity of resources and people are deprived of even basic needs.
This is why it is said that there are enough in this world for a man’s need but not for man’s greed.
Now let us see how material desires causes lots of suffering and heartburn.
Material Desires are difficult to fulfil
It is easy to desire big. In fact, anyone can desire big but to fulfil those desires it takes lots of efforts. One has to slog hard like an animal.
In Srimad Bhagavatam 4.30.30, it is mentioned, apavarga-gurur gatiḥ. Apavarga means liberation. Opposite of apavarga is pavarga which means material existence. In Sanskrit there are five vargas – ka-varga, ca – varga, ṭa-varga, ta-varga, pa-varga. Pa-varga has five letters – pa, pha, ba, bha, ma.
pa stands for parisrama (hard work), pha for fena ( foam), ba for vyartha (useless), bha for bhaya(fear) and ma for mrityu (death).
Pavarga as explained by Srila Prabhupada, founder acharya of Iskcon
Srila Prabhupada has very nicely explained the word pavarga. Let us discuss.
To fulfil any desire, one has to work extremely hard which is represented by the letter, pha, which stands for parisrama (hard work).
Now if one works very hard then one starts frothing from the mouth i.e. foam comes from the mouth which is represented by the letter, pha, which stands for fena (foam). Sometimes we might have seen horses, donkeys or oxen frothing because of hard labour.
But in spite of hard work, most of the time we may not be able to achieve what we want and even if we are successful in achieving what we want, we find that it does not satiate our heart which leads to frustration. So, all the hard work for material desires is useless which is represented by the letter, ba, which stands for vyartha (useless).
Also, in this world most of the time we live in bhaya(fear) which is represented by the letter, bha. We fear losing our money, our job, our loved ones and we also fear for our life.
And at the end there is always mrityu (death) which is represented by the letter, ma. Death will come for sure whether we want it or not. And whatever we may have accumulated, we are forced to leave here only when we die. We come empty handed in this world and leave empty handed from this world.
So, scriptures like Bhagavad Gita says that we should not waste our life in pursuing material desires.
Even if desires are fulfilled, it only gives temporary happiness
One devotee from the United States was saying that his father wanted to buy a big and beautiful sea facing bungalow. But he did not have sufficient money to buy it, so he decided to take loan from the bank. Now to pay the huge loan, he had to work extremely hard. For that he had to travel a lot.
So, most of the time he was out of the city for job, many times including Saturdays & Sundays. He had put a beautiful swing in the balcony of his big bungalow. He had a desire that in the morning and evening, he will sit on the swing and enjoy the sea view while sipping coffee and tea.
But since he was always out, he would hardly sit there. But he had a dog in his house. So, every day, the dog would sit on the swing and enjoy the sea view. And the man rarely was able to enjoy the sea view.
Although some of our material desires are fulfilled but the happiness, we get from it is very meagre.
Even if a person is able to earn lots of money, becomes very rich, very famous, so will he be happy forever?
We call Napoleon, the great, Alexander, the great, Akbar, the great, but where are these people now? They were great conquerors and had huge empires, but the waves of time swept them away. And in next life what they became no one knows.
In this lifetime whatever material positions and possessions one has will remain here only. It is not going to go with them in the next life.
The Cobbler and his previous life
Srila Prabhupada tells the story of a cobbler. Once there was a very rich man. He had lots of money and a huge house. In that beautiful house, he was living with his family members. One day the rich man died. As per his karma he was born in the house of a cobbler.
It so happened that the house of the cobbler was near the house in which he lived in his previous life. Not just that the cobbler could remember his past life.
So, he knew that in the previous life, he lived an aristocratic life, and he was the owner of this big house. Every day when he would pass from there, he would look at the house and would remember the days when he was living happily in that house with his wife, children and other family members.
Many times, he thought of going inside the house and tell the inmates that he is their father. But he was not able to muster courage. He would think, “Who is going to believe me?”
But his desire to get into the house kept growing every day. And one day, he could not resist himself. He decided to get inside the house. As soon as he reached near the gate, the security personnel stopped him. The cobbler told to the security about his past life and said that he had build this house and he is the actual owner. Security men started laughing.
Soon, the present owner of the house came out hearing the commotion and inquired the matter. The present owner was the son of the cobbler from previous birth. But when he heard that this cobbler is claiming to be his father in previous birth then he felt insulted. “How can a cobbler say that he is his father?” He picked up his shoes and beat the cobbler and threw him out of the house.
The story may be funny or may make us feel bad. But this is the reality. Even if we accumulate huge amount of wealth, power and other material stuffs but everything is going to remain here only. We won’t be allowed to carry them after we die.
The material aggrandizement will give us only temporary happiness.
Material desires gives rise to more material desires
Many times, we think that if our material desires are fulfilled then we will become happy. But the truth is that as soon as one of our desires are fulfilled it gives rise to another desire. If we turn the pages of history, we will see that desires never satiate a person’s heart.
Let us reflect on the life of Ravana, a lusty king. He had enjoyed with many beautiful young girls. It is said that in Ravana’s palace there were daughters of Gandharvas, great rsis and power demons. They were very beautiful. Mandodari’s beauty was beyond compare. She looked like a celestial woman. But still Ravana was not able to overpower his lusty desire. He wanted to marry Sita, chaste wife of Lord Rama.
We see that Pandavas were ready to hand over the entire kingdom to Duryodhana and in return they just wanted five villages. But Duryodhana wanted everything for himself and was not ready to give anything to Pandavas.
Desires like addiction
Material desires are like addiction – the more you try to enjoy it the more you get addicted to it. Just like if someone starts smoking then he smokes more and more because he gets addicted to smoking. During my school days, one of my hostel mates once revealed to me that he is addicted to smoking and he said that sometimes in a day he smokes around 44 cigarettes. We were in school at that time. Once we get addicted to wrong things, it is too difficult to give it up and it destroys our life.
Initially the desire may be small but if we keep on nurturing it then slowly it becomes too big. Just like initially someone may smoke only one cigarette but slowly because of addiction, he starts smoking dozens of cigarettes in a single day.
Material desires keeps on increasing and it keeps on troubling us and never allows us to be peaceful.
The beggar’s mysterious bowl
Once a king came out of his palace in the morning for a walk. He saw a beggar. The king was in good mood. He asked the beggar, “Tell me what you want, and I will provide you.” The beggar in a sarcastic tone said, “You are saying as if you can give me whatever I want.” King felt insulted. He said, “Do you know who I am? I am the king, and you think I cannot satisfy you. You ask and I will fulfil your wishes today.” The beggar extended his begging bowl and said, “I have one desire. Please fill my bowl.”
The king asked his minister to bring some gold coins and fill the beggar’s bowl. The minister hurried inside the palace, brought some gold coins and poured in the bowl. But to everyone’s surprise, as soon as the coins were poured inside the bowl it disappeared.
King said to the minster, “Bring more coins.” Again, the coins were poured into the bowl but all disappeared. It was a prestige issue for the king.
He ordered, “I do not mind losing all my wealth today, but the beggar’s bowl should be filled.” As per king’s instruction, many valuable items like gems, jewellery, diamonds, pearls etc were brought and put into the bowl but everything would disappear.
People gathered to see the miracle of the beggar and the helplessness of the king. King’s family members also came out. It started in the morning, and it was evening time and still the bowl was empty and the king’s treasury was also getting empty.
What is the begging bowl made of?
Now the king shunned his pride. He understood that the beggar is not an ordinary person. He fell at the feet of the beggar and sought forgiveness for his inability to fulfil his demand. The beggar smiled and started to leave. The king said, “Before you leave, can you please tell me what this begging bowl is made of that it is never filled.” The beggar stopped, looked at the king, smiled and said, “It is made of human mind. A human mind has the ability to absorb unlimited desires and still it remains unfulfilled. Similarly, no mater how much wealth you pour in this bowl, it will want more.”
A great lesson for all of us. Scriptures like Bhagavad Gita again and again say that material desires are insatiable and causes great suffering.
What to do with our material desires then?
So, now the question is, what to do with our material desires? Should we become desireless? But it is not possible to become desireless. Only a stone which is dead can be desireless. As sentient being we will have desires. So, the scriptures says that instead of trying to satisfy our material desires, we should cultivate spiritual desires. Because material desires are not just difficult to satisfy but such desires never satiate our heart.
So, a devotee of Krishna never wastes his time in satisfying his material desire. Material desires may come but a devotee tolerates those desires.
Bhagavad Gita on material desires
Lord Krishna says in Bhagavad Gita that one should not get disturbed by material desires.
“A person who is not disturbed by the incessant flow of desires – that enter like rivers into the ocean, which is ever being filled but is always still – can alone achieve peace, and not the man who strives to satisfy such desires.” Bhagavad Gita 2.70
Now our problem is that we are troubled by material desires. So, in that case what should we do? I heard one of the lectures of HH Candramauli Swami Maharaj in Iskcon Chowpatty, Mumbai. Maharaj said that even if you have material desires, you continue practicing Krishna Consciousness. Krishna will do two things with your material desires.
- If Krishna thinks that the material desire is going to be helpful in your practice of Krishna Consciousness, then Krishna will fulfil that desire. For example, some one has a desire to have nice job and if Krishna thinks that having good job will help the devotee in his practice of devotional life then he will fulfil it.
- But if Krishna feels that the material desire is not going to help in bhakti then Krishna will not fulfil that material desire. But Krishna will give higher taste. And once we have higher taste, we will lose taste for lower material desire. As Krishna says in Bhagavad Gita 2.59 – paraṁ dṛṣṭvā nivartate
So, Krishna Consciousness is always a win-win situation.
Krishna will help us to get freedom from material desires
So, we should try our best to get rid of material desires. Even if now, we are having material desires, we should worship Krishna and beg Krishna to free us from unholy material desires which is causing great suffering. And simultaneously, we should cultivate spiritual desires i.e. the desire to serve Krishan selflessly like the devotees of Vrindavan.
One of the best ways to give up material desires is by chanting the names of Krishna and reading scriptures like Bhagavad Gita. We see that after hearing Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna had only spiritual desires and had no material desires, he just wanted to serve Krishna by following his instructions.
Slowly as we advance in our devotional life, we will be able to give up our material desires and will only have spiritual desires.
And when we attain that stage, we will become completely peaceful, and our life will be full of bliss.
Bhagavad Gita 2.71, explains the benefit of giving up material desires.
“A person who has given up all desires for sense gratification, who lives free from desires, who has given up all sense of proprietorship and is devoid of false ego – he alone can attain real peace.” Bhagavad Gita 2.71